The carnauba palm (Copernicia prunifera (Mill.) H.E.Moore) is an arboreal species belonging to the Arecaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
C. prunifera species.
The term is basionym:
– Palma prunifera Mill..
The terms are synonyms:
– Arrudaria cerifera (Arruda) Macedo;
– Copernicia cerifera (Arruda) Mart.;
– Corypha cerifera Arruda;
The term Copernicia del was dedicated to the Polish astronomer Mikołaj Kopernik (in Latin Nicolaus Copernicus; 1473-1543).
The specific prunifera epithet is the combination of the Latin term “pruina” = frost and of the verb “fero” = to carry, with reference to the whitish waxy layer that covers the leaf blade.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Copernicia prunifera is an endemic plant of the Caatinga, an exclusive Brazilian biome, which encompasses a total area of 826,411 km². The latter is present in eight of the nine states of the Northeast: Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, Bahia, and is also present in a northern strip of Minas Gerais. The Caatinga covers about 10% of the national territory and 70% of the northeastern region and borders three other biomes of the country, the Amazon rainforest, the Atlantic forest and the Cerrado savanna. A semi-arid climate prevails in the Caatinga, with about 800 mm of rain per year which is poorly distributed, resulting in long periods of drought.
Its natural habitat is that of the dry forest areas of Brazil, where it grows along rivers in the valleys, often in areas subject to periodic floods and periodic droughts.
Copernicia prunifera is a monoecious palm with a single trunk, which can reach a height of 20 meters and a diameter of the trunk, up to 25 cm high, of a gray colour, often covered by the residues of the foliar bases arranged in a spiral and curiously concentrated more in the lower part of the trunk than in the one next to the crown.
The canopy is circular, with 1.5 m fan-shaped leaves, bisexual flowers and small round black fruits (2.5 cm).
The leaves are palmate, almost circular, of 1,5 m of diameter, with rigid segments united at the base for half of the length, of a yellowish-green to bluish-green colour, and covered by a waxy layer thicker in the lower part; the petioles are about 0,8 m long and are provided with robust spines curved at the margins.
The inflorescences are about 2 m long; these are born among the leaves and extend a little outside the crown; they are ramified and bear yellowish hermaphroditic flowers.
The fruits are ovoid in shape, about 2,6 cm long, of blackish color when ripe and which contain only one seed. This palm can live up to 200 years.
Copernicia prunifera is a large palm widely cultivated, almost entirely in Brazil, due to the wax that can be obtained from the leaves. It is also often cultivated as an ornamental plant in tropical areas.
Although this palm is drought tolerant, it has high water requirements for growth. A slightly saline composition in the soil produces the best trees. In the wild, they grow in floodplains or near rivers.
The plants therefore grow in humid tropical climates where the temperatures never drop below 10 °C, even if they resist temperatures as low as -3 °C, even if for a short time. The average annual rainfall is 1,500 mm or more, and the driest month has 25 mm or more of rain.
They can, however, also grow in drier areas with annual rainfall of as little as 250mm and a month or more where rainfall is less than 25mm.
It should be remembered that the plants grow well in full sun, even if small, and prefer a humid and well drained soil, even in saline soils.
It is, however, a slow growing plant.
This palm has a good ornamental value, not yet fully exploited.
The palm still has a considerable economic importance for the local populations for the production of the wax obtained from the leaves after having dried them in the sun; despite the high price of the product and the competition from synthetic ones, there are still many companies dedicated to its collection, both for the local market and for export.
The collection is carried out in the dry season when its secretion is more abundant, it is in fact a natural protection system against the excessive loss of water through transpiration.
To produce the wax, the harvesting operations must therefore be carried out during the dry season to ensure complete drying of the leaves. The harvest is normally carried out from August to December. However, during periods with longer winters, the harvest can be delayed. A Carnuaba palm can produce up to 60 leaves per plant, especially after a very heavy rainy season.
Harvesting is done with a long pole ending in a hooked blade; the top leaves are removed for higher wax content.
Production of carnauba-derived materials declined in the early 1970s, largely due to the invention of synthetic and petroleum products.
Since then, production has increased since the early 2000s and has reached approximately 20,000 tons of powder and approximately 2,500 tons of wax.
This palm reproduces by seed, which germinates in 1-3 months, utilizing 15-20 cm tall containers.
In sowing it is not necessary to separate the seeds from the fruit before sowing. If preserved seeds are used, it is recommended to soak them for 24 hours in warm water.
Germination is slow, with a low germination rate and young seedlings grow slowly.
Customs and Traditions –
Copernicia prunifera is a palm known for its industrial exploitation in the production of carnauba wax.
This plant is also known as the “tree of life” due to its multiple uses, the Carnaúba is also the symbolic tree of Ceará. The initiative to use it as a symbol aims to promote its conservation and sustainable use.
The wax obtained from this plant is among the most valuable, it has a high melting point (between 80 and 87 °C) which gives it particular hardness, the highest among vegetable waxes, and resistance; it is used for polishing floors, cars, furniture, in the food and pharmaceutical industry as a coating, in the cosmetic industry and in many other fields; added to other natural and synthetic waxes it improves their characteristics. The leaves are also still used to extract fibers for ropes and handicrafts and as a cover for huts and makeshift shelters, while the stems, due to their resistance, are used in construction. The dried roots were used in traditional medicine as a diuretic and, burnt and pulverized, against rheumatism, but also as a substitute for cooking salt.
Carnauba wax consists of myricylcerotate and small amounts of cerotic acid and myricilic alcohol.
The economic activity of carnauba includes the extraction and utilization of the leaves, stem, tail and fibers, fruits and roots. These materials are all transformed into artisanal and industrialized products. However, the powder used in wax production is the most profitable part of the plant due to the large market interest. Carnauba production is mainly found in northeastern Brazil, especially in the state of Rio Grande do Norte (5%), in the state of Ceará (35%) and in the state of Piauí (45%). Brazil is the only exporting country, and the main importers are Japan, the United States and also Europe.
Copernicia prunifera also has food interest.
The pith of the trunk is rich in starch and is used to make sago. An edible rubber is obtained from the trunk while the seed is used as a coffee substitute.
The leaves are eaten cooked and the apical shoot, often known as “palm heart”, is eaten as a vegetable.
However, if this shoot is removed, it leads to the death of the tree because it is unable to make lateral shoots.
Furthermore, its fruits can be used as feed for cattle, donkeys, goats and pigs or can also be used to produce jellies for human consumption. The pulp is extracted and dried to produce carnauba flour, widely consumed by the natives. Cooking oil can be extracted from the seeds, which are also edible.
From this palm, products and active ingredients for medicinal use are obtained.
The roots are purifying and diuretic. A decoction is considered a specific treatment for syphilis, and is also used in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism, skin conditions and oedemas.
A wax obtained from the leaves is used in the preparation of ointments and poultices.
Among other sui it should be noted that from the lower surfaces of the leaves a high quality wax is obtained which is very hard and has a high melting point. It is used to make various high quality polishes and paints, phonograph records, lubricants, soaps, candles, etc.
The leaves can be used for thatching and weaving into items such as mats, baskets and hats.
The fiber obtained from the leaves is used to make ropes.
An oil is obtained from the seeds.
The wood is soft, moderately heavy, long lasting in salt water, easy to work. It is used for fences, rustic constructions, strips, lathe work such as walking sticks, etc. Due to its natural resistance against the most common wood pests, such as termites, carnauba wood is a valuable local building material. Although it is mainly used by low-income people, its function in beach tents – not only as a central pillar/column/pole, but also as a leafy roof – is very common.
The Mercado de Carne de Aquiraz, in Ceará, is a notable example of the effectiveness of carnauba wood as a versatile building material. While the building’s roof is supported by trusses and beams made from the entire carnauba trunk, the ceramic tiles are carefully mounted on beams of the same wood, cut into four equal sections.
Whole stems are used to make poles.
Wood is used as fuel.
From a social and ecological point of view, the carnauba palm is an easily adaptable species and, therefore, is widespread over vast territories, significantly affecting places. In addition to economic and cultural impacts, it has a significant ecological influence on environments. The fact that the carnauba palm is a species that grows along rivers and streams in general helps to prevent siltation in water bodies and to control soil erosion in the areas where it is located. The fruits of the carnauba palm serve as food for animals such as bats, pigs, wild boars and some Psittacidae (parrots and parakeets), one of the best aiding factors in the spread of the seeds of this species. Bees also consume nectar and pollen from its flowers to make honey, helping to pollinate this species. However, the relationship between the carnauba palm and animals is not limited to food, but is also linked to helping migratory processes and ecosystem balance. Birds, for example, often use this palm for nesting and resting when they gather in flocks.
Method of Preparation –
Copernicia prunifera, as mentioned, is the plant from which carnauba wax is obtained which is extracted from the leaves.
After harvesting, the leaves are left in the field to dry in the sun. The thin layer of plant material covering the wax disintegrates into a powder, which is then separated by repeatedly beating the dried leaves. The powder is concentrated in a mortar, mixed with water and melted to produce liquid wax. After drying, it is concentrated into pieces and sold.
The fruit and pith of the plant are eaten; the leaves are variously used and the wood is a building material.
Leaf fibers are a by-product of wax production, known as “bagana”. Biomass can be used as compost, soil cover to retain moisture, or compressed into high-energy biofuel briquettes for power generation.
Leaf fibers, or “palha,” are also woven into the manufacture of items such as hats, baskets, bags, and many other household products.
These handicrafts are very popular with tourists and are an important source of income for the local population. Wax palm leaves can also be used in making rustic roofs.
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– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Attention: The pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not in any way represent a medical prescription; we therefore decline all responsibility for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.